July 27, 2022
Bringing a digital edge to flexible packaging circularity
In the study of chaos theory dynamics, the ‘butterfly effect’ suggests that small changes don’t stay small – they ripple out to create much wider and broader changes beyond the obvious. In essence, what we do today can have a sizeable impact on tomorrow.
Packaging sustainability is a fantastic example of this principle, particularly as the plastic and flexible packaging industries cannot afford to tread water when it comes to boosting long-term sustainability. The technology developed today does not just have a direct impact on the world around us in terms of reducing litter or waste to landfill, it secures a more robust future for commerce at large.
Top of the agenda for brands, packaging suppliers and consumers alike is the switch from wasteful ‘take, make, waste’ linear consumption streams to circularity and circular economy principles. In a circular economy, non-renewable resources are kept in use within the value chain, rather than becoming an environmental burden following single use. To make this achievable, the packaging industry has invested heavily in technical and economic cycles that minimise energy loss and de-materialise production and consumption.
Where this becomes infinitely more complex is in the composition of flexible packaging. The format is often created with multiple layers of plastic, sometimes combined with foils or papers, each with a different role.
In recovery and recycling, these are not easily separated and little of the packaging is traceable. This means that flexible packaging is often not viable for standard mechanical recycling infrastructure. In the cases where it can be recovered and post-consumer recyclate can be generated, it cannot be assumed to be ‘food grade’. Inevitably, this means that without a clear scheme of provenance that tracks the journey of flexible packaging, virgin plastics are still required in large volumes.
So, is that truly circular?
At Greenback, we take that outward view of plastic circularity that is so important to the future of the industry. By creating a decentralised network of chemical recycling plants, connected with a blockchain-powered digital verification platform, Greenback aims to rewrite the rules on flexible packaging sustainability.
Recovery infrastructure is not always simple, but one way to picture it is as an ‘inner loop’ and ‘outer loop’.
The outer loop is the physical flow of material and what many would think of when considering the recycling process. This involves tangible elements such as how waste is collected, transported, treated and returned to manufacturers to be remade into new products.
By way of contrast, the inner loop is the outer loop’s ‘digital twin’. This is where plastic in the recovery chain is not just a physical product, but a unit of data to be traced and managed. The inner loop is absolutely essential to building a more robust flexible packaging recycling future, based on traceability and accountability.
To bring tomorrow’s technology to market today, Greenback has developed the eco2Veritas circularity platform that combines artificial intelligence, blockchain and IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to create clear chain of custody and provenance – which to now, has not been possible. By collecting evidence at the point of recovery that can clearly show the journey of an individual unit of packaging, entirely new opportunities open up in flexible packaging sustainability.
The approach goes hand in hand with Greenback’s innovative platform of decentralised chemical recycling facilities. Combining technology and financial incentives to encourage the collection of ‘hard to recycle’ flexible packaging feedstock, chemical recycling plants can apply a unique pyrolysis process, developed with partner Enval, to create a recycled-origin base oil – the building block of plastic polymers.
By returning plastics to an earlier state than any other recovery method, including mechanical recovery, this creates enormous potential, as well as being easier to transport. Essentially ‘rewiring’ plastic on a molecular level, it means that recyclate can be reprocessed into food-grade plastic in a way that historically, simply has not been possible.
Adding a digital edge to a circular plastic economy signposts the future of plastic recovery and flexible packaging as a whole. With innovators, such as Greenback at the helm, breaking new ground in plastic sustainability, flexible packaging circularity appears to be more achievable than ever before.
For more information on Greenback Recycling Technologies, please visit www.greenback.earth
June 20, 2022
How eco-consumers are driving demand for sustainable recyclate
Eco-consumers are putting their money where their mouth is by committing their spending power to products whose sustainability, environment and social credentials are taking centre stage.
Consumers believe that brands have as much responsibility as governments to create positive environmental change according to a recently conducted survey by The Economist¹. The survey indicates that over the past five years there has been a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods globally. This trend isn’t just in first-world countries either: consumer satisfaction in developing and emerging economies is also tied to concerns around climate change, and many want businesses to commit to protecting nature and natural systems.
In the UK, environmental awareness among consumers is also surging, with 85% now making more sustainable lifestyle choices according to Deloitte’s Sustainable Consumer research². The findings reveal consumer behaviour is driven by three priorities: waste reduction, reducing their carbon footprint and a desire to adopt more circular practices, such as buying products in sustainable packaging. Deloitte’s research furthermore found that around a third of consumers have actively chosen brands with strong sustainable (34%) and ethical (30%) credentials, with some avoiding those perceived to lack these values (28%).
GFK takes this one step further in its third edition of the Who Cares? Who Does? report³ defining consumer segments based on both their level of concern for environmental issues, and their levels of sustainable retail activity branding them as Eco-actives, Eco-considerers, or Eco-dismissers. So what defines each of the three demographics?
Sustainably-minded shoppers, Eco-actives, are the most conscientious, taking action to reduce their waste, by feeding into their intrinsic responsibility to be more sustainable. It is projected that these consumers will make up over 50% of the global population by 2029.
Eco-considerers are consumers who want to shop sustainably but find it hard, believing sustainable products are harder to find or more expensive. The value action gap is most pronounced among Eco-considerers, globally 62% of Eco-considers believe sustainable products are harder to find or more expensive.
Then there are those consumers who care little about the environmental impact of their spending also referred to as Eco-dismissers. In 2019, this segment made up 41% of the global population according to GFK but over the last two years declined to 34% in 2020 and 28% in 2021.
Given their unique position in the supply chain, retailers are key to the circular economy, serving as the connection between suppliers and consumers. Retailers can also leverage their unique position enabling and legitimising a focus on social issues.
One of these areas where retailers can play a key role is in the consumer packaging goods (CPG) sector and the industry is responding by implementing recycled post-consumer plastic waste into new products. The recycling of traditionally hard-to-recycle flexible packaging via Greenback’s advanced recycling technology is a means of achieving a circular economy, where plastic waste is converted into feedstock for use in new products, thereby ‘closing the loop’.
Recycled plastic is becoming an integral part of the packaging sector following the implementation of plastic taxes in Europe and the UK. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies are also being implemented where producers are given significant responsibility for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer plastic products.
How Greenback can help
Greenback’s advanced recycling process is poised to play a key role in converting flexible packaging, made from multiple plastic polymers or blends of materials, including foils and papers, into quality feedstock for new plastic products. For the CPG sector, this process can be an ideal solution for obtaining the necessary recyclate for incorporation into packaging to meet not only regulatory quotas but also today’s consumer expectations.
Another key factor in Greenback’s recycling technology is its certification process where the company is able to validate the provenance of the recyclate. The CPG industry can back claims that the packaging does indeed contain genuine post-consumer plastic waste. Brands that pay a premium for the recyclate need this verification and Greenback has the technology to prove it.
Greenback’s eco2Veritas Circularity Platform™ is an agnostic system that can be implemented across any recycling process including chemical recycling and addresses the need to provide provenance for post-consumer recyclate materials. The platform enhances Enval’s advanced recycling technology that has been adopted by Greenback in turning waste flexible packaging into Py-oil.
The Enval advanced recycling technology heats plastic waste via a microwave-induced pyrolysis process without oxygen – efficiently and economically. The recycling plants can be situated at landfill sites and during the process the plastic component of the waste depolymerises, forming a mixture of hydrocarbons, which is then cooled down and separated into gas and oil. The gas generates the electricity required to power the recycling facility itself, creating a closed-loop solution, with the oil converted into naphtha feedstock for use in new packaging development.
With foresight and the right partner in the advanced chemical recycling industry, the post-consumer plastic waste problem can be eased, and CPG companies can provide the end-user with certified sustainable plastic products made from post-consumer waste.
To find out more about Greenback Recycling Technologies, please visit www.greenback.earth
June 6, 2022
Future recycling, today!
The end of the Second World War saw a proliferation of plastic products flooding the market, and in the months following the armistice, the US saw thousands of people lining up to get into the first National Plastics Exposition, which was held in New York. This was the first showcase of new products made possible by the miracle material, plastic.¹
On show were suitcases light enough to lift with a finger, but strong enough to carry a load of bricks, clear packaging material that allowed a shopper to see if the food inside was fresh and flowers that looked like they'd been carved from glass. For a weary post-war public, the show offered an exciting and glittering preview of the promise of polymers.
But plastic really came of age in 1955 when the cover of Life magazine celebrated a new ‘Throwaway Living’ lifestyle, and it was this decade that shaped the future and use of single-use products. The main driving factor? Convenience.
Since the 1950s, 8.3bn tonnes of plastic have been generated globally,² but with only 9% recycled, 12% incinerated and the remaining 79% ending up in of the environment, this is no longer a sustainable state of affairs.
An agenda for sustainable development
Poor waste management over the years has exacerbated the situation, and although UN members ratified the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, no two national transition pathways are identical. The UN does, however, urge members to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as a guiding framework to ensure a just and inclusive transition in implementing the 2030 Agenda.
Plastics come in many shapes and sizes and can be flexible or rigid, featuring a single polymer, multiple layers of different polymers, or other materials. But while plastic safeguards our quality of life, pollution is also threatening our planet’s ecosystems.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation³, one of the fastest-growing plastic packaging categories is flexible packaging. It is also the most challenging market segment to address because its format is uniformly designed as single use, with very low recycling and high leakage rates. In order to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy (CE) for plastics, the Foundation believes it is time to urgently deliver alternative solutions for today’s flexible packaging.
The CE is a concept gaining global momentum owing to a fundamental reconsideration of resource-producing, consuming and recovery systems, but achieving a high quality of waste materials and recycling processes is a key challenge in closing resource loops for plastic.
Extended Producer Responsibility (ERP), where manufacturers of products are responsible for their products throughout their entire life cycles is another method being advocated and implemented. Then, of course, there are plastic taxes in place in the EU as well as in the UK.
Advanced recycling tackles the plastic waste crisis
As part of its mission to tackle the plastic pollution challenge in Europe, the Consumer Goods Forum’ (CGF)⁴ Plastic Waste Coalition of Action published “Chemical Recycling in a Circular Economy for Plastics” in April 2022, which encourages the development of new plastics recycling technology.
The CGF believes pyrolysis chemical recycling can play an important role in the circular economy for recycling flexible plastic packaging, if it is developed and operated under credible, ethical, safe and environmentally sound conditions, and is complementary to existing plastic recycling operations.
In encouraging chemical recycling the CGF sets out a number of principles it believes will guide the development of pyrolysis chemical recycling:
The source of input materials should not include plastics that can be economically recycled by mechanical recycling.
The recycled content is accurately traced from input through to recyclate in meeting recycled content targets.
The environmental impact is kept to a minimum.
Emissions and pollution from chemical recycling are properly managed to safeguard the health and safety of people and the environment.
And that all claims by companies purchasing plastics produced by chemical recycling are communicated transparently to consumers.
Greenback’s innovative solution to advanced chemical recycling not only addresses the principles as set out by the CGF but is also aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
As a plastic recycling and certification company, we created the eco2Veritas Circularity Platform™ which is an agnostic system that can be implemented across any recycling process including chemical recycling to create a circular economy. The platform enables the consumer-packaged goods sector to be supplied with quality certified post-consumer recyclate. The recyclate is tracked from the landfill, through the pyrolysis processing plant, to where it ends up as quality feedstock for new plastic products. The auditing of the recyclate is digital, carried out in real-time and stored on a private secure Blockchain.
We have also partnered with Enval, a UK-based company that has created a state-of-the-art microwave pyrolysis plant that converts flexible plastic into a valuable commodity, namely Py-oil, which is converted into naphtha – a non-fossil feedstock. Naphtha can be used in creating plastic feedstock that is suitable for the manufacture of plastic packaging for consumer packaging goods companies.
We also provide the provenance of the recyclate, certifying it so all claims to its origin can be substantiated. Other key traits are that Enval plants can be installed at landfill sites, are agile enough to scale and generates their own power.
As the need for certified recycled post-consumer waste increases and becomes a valuable commodity, our innovative approach to generating recyclate for the consumer goods packaging companies offers a meaningful solution to creating new plastic products while limiting harm to the environment.
Engaging in recycling today will have future benefits for everyone. Recycling adds value to plastic waste, reduces the amount of garbage in landfills, does not pollute the environment and enables a pathway to a more sustainable consumer society!
For more information on Greenback Recycling Technologies, please visit www.greenback.earth
According to the United Nations, only 9% of manufactured plastic gets recycled. A further 12% is incinerated, creating harmful emissions, while the remaining 79% continues to accumulate in landfills, dumps, or the environment. To address such an unbalanced present for a more sustainable future, a new approach is needed.
At Greenback we believe in a unique approach that combines innovative recycling processes with state-of-the-art data management. We call this approach the Eco2veritas Circularity Platform. Increased scrutiny of the global supply chain means data capturing and auditing processes are only going to become more prominent parts of the conversation around sustainability.
The importance of provenance
The global environmental conversation has shifted increasingly towards recycled plastics and circular economies in recent years. The resulting demand for recyclate means that supplies are stretched thin and costs are increasing. This is an issue that affects all levels of the supply chain, from manufacturers to converters to retailers. Brands are increasingly eager to advertise their environmental credentials, which means manufacturers and converters will need to continually adapt to meet the needs of clients and consumers.
As brands and their supply chains grow increasingly reliant on recycled content, particularly for consumer packaging goods (CPG) companies, the issue of provenance is only going to become more important. If a company pays a premium for recycled material, that company will need to check that it contains the right proportion of recycled content. The journey, starting with the collection of post-consumer waste used as raw material to make the packaging, to the point it lands in a consumer’s hands, must be easily accessible and verifiable.
The data ensures a brand’s sustainability goals can be achieved. With governments around the world bringing in plastic-limiting legislation and taxes under EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) policies, this is not just a moral issue – it can have a heavy financial cost.
Pioneering provenance technology
The issue with making this detailed data more widely available is that it opens up new possibilities for data tampering and fraud. The growing cost of and demand for recyclate means the recycling industry is increasingly open to security and fraud risks at multiple points across the supply chain.
We use modern blockchain technology to ensure the data we use is completely immutable, secure and transparent. The blockchain is an electronic ledger that stores data in sequential blocks. Each block contains a unique marker, known as a hash, from the previous block in the chain. The hash is threaded through every block, resulting in a long unique hash string. This makes editing data impossible once it enters the chain as each block relies on all other blocks further back – even a minute change would result in a butterfly effect that cascades through the whole chain, creating a completely different hash and rendering it invalid. It ensures each entry in the chain is immutable and easy to trace, making it a complete provenance verification solution.
We use a private blockchain, so only we can input data and the compute burden of generating the proof of work does not fall on users. It also prevents the high energy consumption of blockchain systems used in cryptocurrency.
Blockchain technology makes the data we collect both more open and more secure. This helps eliminate the issue of one-up one-down visibility in the supply chain, so users can confidently verify the journey their recycled packaging has been on in granular detail.
Our Circulatory Platform uses an exhaustive list of data to provide the most accurate audits possible. We gather material ourselves by partnering with local waste collectors, with modular plants set up at participating landfills to streamline the process further. We use IoT, cutting-edge AI recognition, weigh-scale data, smart contracts, image data, and more to verify the composition of every material we collect and process. This ensures our partners have the transparency and confidence they need in our data verification process.
We use a cutting-edge thermochemical pyrolysis process pioneered by our sister company, Enval. This process involves melting down post-consumer plastic waste into a mix of chemicals using microwave energy, a versatile solution that can treat a wider variety of waste than mechanical recycling, including flexible plastics and films. This patented process is the only one in the world that can recycle plastic aluminium laminates by separating the aluminium from the oil.
The plastic is separated into solid, liquid, and gaseous components just like with traditional pyrolysis, but our process takes the gas and funnels it back into the system to be used as power for increased energy efficiency. The end result is cleanly-produced pyrolysis oil, a valuable resource that is sold to petrochems and used throughout the plastics industry. The creation of this oil – functionally the same as virgin oil, but from a more sustainable source – is digitally tracked through the supply chain and permanently recorded on the blockchain.
Building on our Circularity Platform
The Circularity Platform is a holistic approach that can be applied to a range of different technologies throughout the recycling and manufacturing processes. It is made to work in synergy with existing processes, enhancing and protecting data management with secure technology. The more we all know about the materials we use, the more insights we can learn to guide us towards a greener future. Greenback is committed to making this process as transparent and secure as possible, for the benefit of manufacturers, converters, and the future of our planet.
For more information on Greenback Recycling Technologies, please visit www.greenback.earth.
May 9, 2022
Enhancing the power of sustainability through data
April 25, 2022
Europe implements positive change to generate recycled materials suitable for food contact applications
The tide in Europe is turning as advanced recycling is fast becoming an accepted means of generating recycled materials suitable for food-contact applications. This is a positive move up from 2008, when the European Union (EU) only accepted mechanically recycled plastic for food-contact packaging.
Changes to the framework for post-consumer recycled plastics are currently being implemented by the European Commission, following the release of a draft act by the Commission in December 2021. This saw a simplification of processes around the development, certification, and use of recycled plastic in food contact materials. Public comment was sought during January of this year and the act should be released by the end of the first half of 2022.
Until now, the EU decreed that post-consumer recycled plastics, when used as food contact materials, had to be recycled in accordance with Regulation (EC) 282/2008 (Food Contact Recycled Plastics) as amended (consolidated version of 26 October 2015)¹.This applied whether the new food contact material (FCM) contains 100% post-consumer recycled material (PCR) or partial PCR.
Regulation (EC) 282/2008 was originally established in 2008 with a primary focus on recycling PET. By updating the regulation, the Commission aims to include the recycling technologies that have been developed since 2008 and were not adequately regulated, as well as covering future recycling technologies.
Understanding the differences between mechanical & advanced recycling
Plastics are made up of long-chain molecules known as polymers, which consist of smaller repeating building blocks called monomers. These monomers come in different shapes and sizes, and the bonding between them determines the plastic’s material properties – such as melting temperature and toughness – which affects the way it is used in its final application.
During mechanical recycling, plastics such as PET, HDPE, PVC and LDPE are sorted, melted, and remoulded to create mainly lower-grade plastic products. But this process is limited. Harsh recycling conditions, negatively impact the performance of the recycled material, which in turn limits the number of times plastics can be recycled.
So, while mechanical recycling involves melting plastic, advanced recycling relies on a chemical transformation process that breaks the links between monomers ultimately creating a new plastic material. This process enables true closed-loop recycling that can transform plastic waste into other higher-value chemicals which can be used to make new plastic.
Pyrolysis is one of the processes used during advanced recycling. It relies on high reaction temperatures to break down plastic waste converting it to gas and pyrolysis oil, which new plastic feedstock (just like a virgin material) is then generated.
Specialist recycling technology firm Enval has designed and developed a proprietary microwave pyrolysis plant, and this technology has been adopted by Greenback.
Enval’s patented state-of-the-art microwave induced pyrolysis recycling technology recycles flexible plastic packaging and hard-to-recycle plastic packaging. The technology works by heating post-consumer waste without oxygen and when carbon is exposed to this microwave field, it can reach temperatures of up to 600°C in just a few minutes. As the shredded plastic waste floats onto the fluidised bed of carbon, the energy absorbed from the microwaves is transferred to the plastic by conduction in a quick and efficient manner.
During this process the plastic element of the waste depolymerizes into a mixture of hydrocarbons, which is then cooled down and separated into gas and oil. The resultant gas is then used to generate electricity to power the plant, creating a closed-loop solution, while the oil is converted into naphtha – a non-fossil feedstock. Naphtha can be used in creating plastic feedstock that is suitable in the manufacture of plastic packaging for the consumer packaging goods companies.
New role in Europe
When the regulation is officially updated in the EU, advanced recycling can play a critical role in generating approved recycled plastic feedstock for food-contact packaging. The Enval process adopted by Greenback will then enable the consumer-packaged goods sector to be supplied with quality certified post-consumer recyclate suitable for food grade packaging applications.
Another key benefit for the plastics value-chain is that Enval’s pyrolysis plants are scalable and quick to commission. A single module can process 2.5kt per annum of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and can be neatly upscaled in 2.5kt increments to fit the size of the waste stream available locally. These modules can be installed at landfill sites from where hard to recycle plastic can be fed straight into the plant to be recycled, avoiding incineration or landfill of this waste.
Post-consumer plastic waste in Europe is a valuable commodity and Greenback’s revolutionary approach to generating food contact recyclate offers a meaningful solution to creating new plastic products, while limiting harm to the environment.
For more information on Greenback Recycling Technologies, please visit www.greenback.earth
April 11, 2022
The future of plastics recycling
Since becoming commercially viable in the early 20th century, plastic has become a victim of its own success. Its many benefits – including its light weight, high strength, low cost, exceptional longevity and even greater versatility – has led to plastic pervading every aspect of modern life.
It is estimated that since the 1950s, when wholesale industrial production began, more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been created. The growth in its use has been exponential with the annual global production of plastic resins and fibres increasing from two million tonnes in 1950 to over four hundred million tonnes in 2015i.
But while society’s appetite for plastic has been huge, our ability to dispose of it sustainably post-use has not. Of the 380 million tonnes of plastic produced globally each year, just 16% of it is currently recycled whilst 40% is sent to landfill, 25% to incineration and 19% is dumpedii.
Given these percentages, it’s easy to understand why plastic pollution has become an urgent global concern. Clearly more needs to be done to tackle the plastic waste problem. Today’s recycling efforts are failing to keep pace but does the same need to be true of tomorrow?
In this article, we explore the future of plastics recycling and what pending developments could increase the material’s circularity.
Greater investment into mechanical recycling
In January 2021, the British Plastics Federation (BPF) released a Recycling Roadmap looking at what the UK could potentially achieve by 2030 if the right drivers were in placeiii .
Created by the BPF, with additional input from the BPF’s Recycling Group, which comprises some fifty recyclers, the roadmap set out a possible future where the UK could dramatically reduce its reliance on exporting plastic waste and the amount plastic going to landfill to just 1% over the next ten years.
To achieve this however, significant investment is required to overcome some current challenges and shortfalls. This investment needs to focus on growing existing mechanical and non-mechanical recycling capacity, developing recycling systems for non-packaging plastic waste and on improving collection systems.
The required funding could potentially come from the money raised by the new UK Plastics Packaging Tax or via Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The BPF’s roadmap estimates £1 billion to £1.3 billion is needed to build the required facilities in the UK, and this is just for the mechanical recycling sector.
Like most problems however, the issue of limited plastic recycling won’t be solved simply by throwing money at it. There are other complications to consider beyond the current lack of infrastructure.
Many plastics cannot be recycled because they have a composite or laminate structure which employs numerous types of polymer. As these polymers melt at different temperatures, they are not easy to separate and subsequently recycle.
Recycling plastic, at least mechanically, is also a downward spiral rather than fully circular. The process of sorting, cleaning, shredding, melting and then remoulding the plastic degrades its quality. When the plastic is melted for instance, its polymer chains are broken down, decreasing its tensile strength and its viscosity. The new, lower grade plastic is often unsuitable for use in food packaging and most plastic can only be recycled a limited number of times before it is so degraded it becomes unusable.
It would appear mechanical recycling cannot solve the issue of plastic waste. Instead, it just displaces it until a later point in time.
Increased legislation and taxation
Arguably some of the current imbalance between plastic production and plastic recycling stems from the fact that the maths frequently doesn’t add up. Due to the cost and complexity of collecting, sorting and recycling plastic waste, it is often more commercially attractive to use virgin polymers because it’s cheaper.
This problem is only exacerbated by the growing demand for recycled plastic as companies seek to demonstrate their commitment to the environment and to achieve either voluntary or mandatory sustainability targets. Demand now far outweighs supply and as result the price of recycled plastics has soared to record highs.
For instance, between January 2021 and January 2022, the cost of flakes of post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in Europe rose by 103%1 to €1,690 a tonne according to data group, ICISiv. Plus, it’s not just PET which has been affected. There have been similar surges in the price of recycled polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
To ensure greater use of recycled plastics despite these challenging economics, we can fully expect to see an increase in the current tax and legislative frameworks in place which make the use of virgin polymer financially punitive. The new UK Plastic Packaging Tax is a prime example and will most likely be followed by other similar regulatory steps taken on a national, international and global basis.
New advances at a molecular level
The future of plastics recycling could be well affected by changes in the nature of plastic itself. There are on-going efforts to refine plastic at a molecular level and to address the fact that most plastics were never created to be recycled or even with any form of end-of-life disposal in mind.
The development of bioplastics, made from plant biomass, such as corn starch, sugar cane or wheat, has been part of this. These plastics, which are often marketed as ‘compostable’, should breakdown quickly and completely by natural means. Despite these perceived desirable qualities, bioplastics often have too many performance limitations to eliminate the need for plastic recycling all together.
While some bioplastics can be composted without harming the quality of compost, others leave toxic residues or plastic fragments behind which makes the compost unsuitable for growing food. Additionally, the biomass used to create bioplastics can result in the increased cultivation of genetically modified plants and in the use of agricultural land which would otherwise be better employed to grow food crops that can help alleviate world hunger.
To further complicate matters, the additives used in bioplastics mean they cannot be recycled with standard plastics. Similarly, composting them is complicated. Most bioplastics are only compostable in commercial composters because of the high levels of heat and humidity required. Even then, some commercial composters still have to remove bioplastics because they are unable to realise the required parameters.
Despite the drawbacks to bioplastics, science hasn’t given up on molecular re-engineering to ensure plastic’s sustainability. In 2019, a team from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) created a new type of plastic using poly(diketoenamine) or PDKv.
Unlike the resin polymers found in conventional plastics, those used in PDK-based plastic breakdown easily into their component parts, called monomers, when mixed with acid. They can then be separated from any additives and used to make new plastics without any degradation in quality. The team’s research shows that this process can be repeated indefinitely, creating a completely circular material lifecycle.
The development of PDK is so cutting-edge that it is yet to see large-scale commercialisation, but a recent study has shown that it could be a feasible and competitive solution.
Growth in chemical recycling
One last innovation that looks set to play an increasingly important future role in dealing with plastic waste is chemical recycling.
This technology can overcome both of the main challenges currently faced by mechanical recycling. It can be used across plastics of all composites, all stages of decay and even on plastic contaminated with food or other kinds of waste. It also enables plastic to be recycled an infinite number of times without any degradation in quality or properties.
Chemical recycling makes the unrecyclable recyclable by breaking plastics down into their initial base material, oil. This oil can then be used to make new plastics again and again and again, ad infinitum.
The key to chemical recycling is a process known as pyrolysis which involves the thermal decomposition of materials at elevated temperatures in an inert atmosphere. In the case of waste plastic, it is first melted down and then fed into a pyrolysis reactor where it is heated to between 300 and 900°C. This turns the plastic into a gas which is then cooled. As it does so, it condenses into a liquid that can be distilled into fractions and be put to different purposes.
The advent of chemical recycling is gaining pace and Greenback is a part of this important movement. Alongside a number of other businesses, we are involved in developing the world’s first commercial-scale pyrolysis plants. We are proud to be spearheading this new technology and to be playing a crucial role in changing hard to recycle plastic waste from a scourge of society into a truly circular and valuable resource.
March 14, 2022
Advanced chemical recycling is sustainable!
Plastic is everywhere, and yet there is not enough quality recyclate to implement in the manufacturing of new products.
The stats speak for themselves. According to the United Nations, only 9% of manufactured plastic gets recycled: 12% is incinerated, and the rest, 79%, continues to accumulate in landfills, dumps, or the environment.¹
One solution is however busy gaining traction for converting plastic waste into feedstock to create new plastic products: chemical recycling could offset the current shortage experienced in the steady supply of quality feedstock.
In the past, the high price of establishing and operating a chemical recycling plant has been a hindrance, but this is changing as new technology reduces the cost of establishing and operating these recycling facilities.
Greenback Recycling Technology is partnering with Enval, a specialist firm developing and designing proprietary microwave pyrolysis plants. This innovative microwave process functions as an autonomous and closed-loop system. Our chosen chemical recycling process is converting post-consumer flexible packaging waste into feedstock for new plastic products working in conjunction with mechanical recycling.
The latter is still popular but its scope is limited. It can only recycle bottles made from single polymeric materials such as Polyethylene (PE) or Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) – recycling these items continually by sorting, washing, drying, grinding, re-granulating, and compounding in a closed-loop bottle-to-bottle infrastructure.
At Greenback, we have adopted the Enval process that enables us to create a sustainable facility by converting multi-polymer flexible packaging into pyrolysis oil. The resultant gas is then separated from the oil and used to generate the electricity required to power the recycling plant making the operation even more sustainable.
Advanced chemical recycling in the circular economy is creating the ‘Dissolution, Depolymerisation and Conversion’ recycling route for hard-to-recycle flexible plastic packaging.
This is in response to plastic converters running short on suitable waste because they do not have a steady supply stream of quality feedstock. This reality is forcing the world to take a fresh look at chemical recycling to satisfy the demand.
Our Circularity Platform also certifies the recyclate, which is crucial for consumer-packaged goods companies as it provides the provenance that the recyclate is sourced from post-consumer waste. The Circularity platform is digitally-enabled and uses a combination of artificial intelligence and IoT to gather evidence that will enable companies to see when and how the plastic is collected and the type of material being processed. This platform enables brands to verify the recyclate, meet the relevant legislative obligations being implemented, and address consumer concerns regarding recycled plastic products.
The world is taking a fresh look at chemical recycling because of the growing demand for high-quality plastic recyclate and setting significantly higher targets for recycled plastic in packaging products. The heightened sense of corporate responsibility also plays a role because consumers demand that the products they use are manufactured in the least environmentally damaging way possible.
Scaling a systemic solution towards a circular plastics economy will require combining complementary technologies and collaboration between different value chains without favouring one over another. From this perspective, chemical recycling has a vital role to play. As long as the consumer goods sector uses flexible plastic packaging, it will be a sustainable enterprise ensuring businesses can meet both their legislative and environmental responsibilities.
¹ - link
February 28, 2022
Greenback's chemical recycling process complements WWF's No Plastic in Nature initiative
Reduce and reuse are the main strategies in the No Plastic in Nature vision of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and though the group acknowledges recycling can play a role, it is concerned that chemical recycling will do more harm than good.
Earlier this year the WWF released a paper entitled Chemical Recycling Implementation Principles outlining ten principles to ensure chemical recycling technologies are not detrimental to the environment.
It is no surprise when reviewing this paper that our business philosophy aligns WWF’s ten principles. Greenback was established with the goal of creating a closed loop chemical recycling facility that will convert post-consumer recyclate into feedstock for new plastic products for the consumer goods sector.
One of the most important issues for the WWF is that plastic recycled with chemical recycling technologies should be verified with a clear chain of custody.
Besides the chemical recycling process, Greenback developed its Circularity Platform, which certifies proof of provenance and value at all stages of the supply chain. This allows us to verify all claims regarding the chemical recycling process and the origin of recycled materials using a combination of artificial intelligence, IoT gathered evidence and Blockchain’s inherent security features.
We have always believed that a holistic approach should be implemented in dealing with plastic waste. Instead of working in isolation to solve a point technology problem, it should be solved through a combination of appropriate technologies and processes and by working towards a common goal.
Yes, we advocate chemical recycling, but we also support other efforts that address the global plastic waste crisis. The technologies we are developing are complementing these efforts to make a real impact and find solutions to the problem. For example, many of the current collection systems prioritise PET and aluminium waste. We do not divert resources away from these processes, but instead focus on generating value for flexible plastics that do not get recycled today.
From the outset, the technologies that Greenback is deploying for our plants will safely and economically turn waste plastic into oil, avoiding both particulate and CO₂ emissions from the incineration of the waste.
What is being collected to feed the recycling system is previously hard to recycle plastic, which Greenback sources through local waste collectors. This alleviates the WWF’s concern of chemical recycling and how it can negatively impact on local communities.
Greenback’s process is also about safeguarding nature. Another concern of the WWF is that chemical recycling adversely impacts air, water and the environment. Our technologies have a positive environmental impact. We are creating a market for plastics that were not previously recycled and that are a major source of land, river and ocean pollution. The process we have adopted emits no harmful gasses and the CO₂ emitted is a fraction of what would have been created if the same waste had been incinerated. Another key factor is we are establishing the plants at landfills, so the post-consumer waste is recycled at source, avoiding emissions that would be created by inefficient transport of waste to large-scale centralised plants.
Our recycling plants have proven to be an extremely environmentally efficient technology as not only can they recycle all types of hard-to-recycle plastics into pyrolysis oil, but they are also uniquely able to recycle aluminium laminates. For this reason, they are suitable to process all kinds of plastic waste streams in the most environmentally friendly manner. While we currently utilise Enval modules, our circularity platform is technologically agnostic and can incorporate or match any developments in chemical recycling.
Greenback has always offered a fully circular and integrated solution. Plastic materials passing through its chemical recycling process are turned into pyrolysis oil, which is then converted to naphtha to be used for the production of new plastic materials which then, in turn, become fully recyclable.
It should be noted that solutions are available to increase the viability of plastic recycling. If the will is there from all parties – consumers, companies, NGOs and governments – then there is light at the end of the tunnel for the hard to recycle plastic problem.
It needs everyone working in the same direction with a belief that positive changes can be implemented for the good of the planet and future generations and we truly believe Greenback’s Circularity Platform is one of the solutions enabling the world to tackle the plastic crisis.
February 14, 2022
Understanding the Greenback advanced recycling process
At Greenback Recycling Technologies, we are promoting the use of advanced chemical recycling for the effective waste management of flexible plastic packaging that cannot be handled by today’s incumbent mechanical recycling systems.
Simply put, for flexible packaging to offer extended shelf life of sensitive or perishable goods, it often contains multiple layers of plastic films, foils, adhesives and coatings. These laminated or coextruded layers cannot be separated for today’s typical recycling infrastructure that is seeking to produce ‘pure’ streams of recycled material.
The recycling industry needs to produce materials that have a commercial value to be economically viable and mixed polymers have very limited product applications and low market value. The industry is therefore seeking to produce single streams of material which, as a result, eliminates lightweight mixed polymer flexible packaging from the supply chain.
To solve this problem, Greenback is deploying Enval technology. Enval has developed an advanced chemical recycling solution that utilises a unique microwave-induced pyrolysis technology for low-density plastic packaging waste. The process is clean, efficient and economical for both post-consumer and industrial waste.
Pyrolysis is a process in which organic material, such as paper or plastic, is heated and broken down in the absence of oxygen. In Enval’s case, the heat energy is provided by microwaves and the process can be configured to operate under mild mechanical conditions to extract fragile materials without damaging them. The technology is powered by electricity, eliminating the need for a chimney stack and enables the use of renewable sources of energy creating a highly sustainable recycling process.
In the Enval recycling process, shredded plastic packaging waste which can include multi-layer films and aluminium laminates are floated onto a bed of carbon. When the carbon is exposed to the microwaves, it reaches temperatures of up to 1000°C in just a few minutes. This heat energy is then quickly and efficiently transferred to the plastic waste via conduction.
Any fragile aluminium foil remains undamaged during the process and can be recovered in solid form, clean and ready for reprocessing as a single aluminium stream with high intrinsic value. Meanwhile, the plastic component of the waste degrades to form a mixture of hydrocarbons. This mixture is cooled down and separated into gas and oil. Importantly, the gas can be used to generate the electricity required to power the process in the first place creating a closed loop solution and the new condensed oils are then sold as feedstock to make new plastic packaging.
By Greenback and Enval working together, the collaboration unlocks the potential of high-performance materials that are currently lost to landfill, enabling the recycling of valuable resources and paving the way for responsible packaging solutions, changing the perception of plastic and driving a profitable circular economy.
January 31, 2022
Greenback: driving UN sustainable development goals to the heart of business
One of the biggest questions asked of industry is whether tackling climate change can eradicate poverty, create economic growth and improve health and education, while reducing inequality. The United Nations (‘UN’) believes it does.
The organisation created the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015 in response to these challenges. This programme has, at its heart, 17 sustainable development goals (‘SDGs’) comprising 169 targets that enables society to implement strategies to create a better environment for all.
Industries must play a key role in working towards these SDGs, and Greenback is one of the innovators leading the way forward. We believe that implementing the SDGs is good for the planet and future generations and makes perfect business sense.
Though we can affiliate ourselves to various UN development goals, there are three that are core to our current operations:
SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation
SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
The UN encourages companies to adopt sustainable practices that are fit for purpose with 'green' lifestyles and lifecycle environmental waste management.
To achieve this, Greenback is taking a holistic approach to tackling the recycling of post-consumer plastic packaging waste that is required by consumer packaging goods (‘CPG’) companies to address the amount of certified recycled content they need to use in their products. For this reason, it is essential that every step is verified, ensuring CPGs abide by government regulations that are boosting the demand for recycled content. It also assists CPGs in communicating to their consumers that the products fit in with their environmental lifestyle.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 95% of plastic packaging loses material value when not recycled, with a large share ending up as as environmental waste. A significant problem is the lack of infrastructure to manage waste available in developing economies. In order to solve this problem, Greenback transforms the system by integrating innovative technologies with local structures operating at landfill sites.
One of the solutions we believe can make a difference is our eco2Veritas Circularity Platform™, which comprises an inner and outer loop. The outer loop refers to collecting and sorting waste and feeding it into a chemical recycling plant local to the sources of waste i.e. landfill sites. This localised approach avoid transportation of waste and so reduces pollution, and CO2 emissions at source.
The company's inner loop is then designed to verifiy the source of the recyclate through digital processes that are then backed up on a private blockchain. This provides transparency and evidence in certifying a material's provenance for the CPG.
Through this approach, we are able to supply CPGs with the feedstock they require through our innovative chemical recycling process and the peace of mind that they are receiving recycled material.
SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation
The UN is driving the need for industrial infrastructure to be upgraded, become more environmentally efficient and support economic development in developing countries through financial, technical and technological support.
The technology adopted by Greenback as part of our eco2Veritas Circularity Platform™, is Envals’s microwave-induced pyrolysis solution developed for hard to recycle packaging, including multi-layer (foil/film) laminates used in multilayer high barrier flexible packaging, pouches and tetrapak carton linings.
The recycling plant is scaled to fit the size of the locally available waste stream and, because it is self-powered, requires minimal electricity from the local grid. Using this pioneering microwave equipment, these closed-loop facilities can convert 2.5kt of post-consumer waste per annum into gas and Pyrolysis-oil, a feedstock for the plastics industry. The gas is used to generating electricity to power the machinery. With the eco2Veritas circularity platform then digitally monitoring what is produced, Greenback is able to pay local waste collectors under fair trade conditions for what is collected.
SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
The UN believes in creating employment opportunities for emerging economies with equal pay for everyone, irrespective of gender or disability.
Our circularity platform is the company's distinctive business proposition in addressing this SDG. Through the use of smart contracts and digital payments we are able to ensure that workers involved in the informal waste collection sector are treated fairly with equitable pay. This transparency is fundamental to the company’s CPG clients who want to ensure that their payments are driving a thriving circular economy at a local level.
In conjunction with Nestle in Mexico, for example, the company is creating opportunities for local enterprises at one landfill site, and waste pickers will be able to earn money from supplying the correct collected materials to the recycling facility. Digital technology installed on-site verifies the flexible plastic trash and pays suppliers accordingly.
These pickers collect, sort, and recycle what society throws away in many emerging economies and play a critical role in diverting plastic from the environment, and importantly, Greenback can tap into this undervalued resource. Waste pickers are essential players within the circular economy and recognising their contribution through a system of fair pay makes business sense in developing countries. It also fits perfectly with the UN's goal of reducing poverty in emerging economies.
Flexible recycled waste - answering the UN
Greenback’s eco2Veritas Circularity Platform™ generates employment opportunities in emerging economies, turns post-consumer waste into a viable product and reduces the harm this waste creates within the environment. This platform is one of the innovative solutions assisting the UN in reaching its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to make the world a better place for all!
January 17, 2022
Why flexible plastic packaging is tough to mechanically recycle
And why Greenback has the answer!
Plastic flexible packaging has been a format of choice for the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry for several decades, offering many benefits to brands and their supply chains. From flow wraps and gusseted bags, to lidding films and pouches, flexible packaging is a light weight, versatile format that provides superior product protection and preservation, as well as stand out presentation of products to drive sales.
As flexible packaging has developed in sophistication over the years, the diversity of materials in packaging design has also increased. For example, a brand seeking extended shelf life through retorting (or sterilisation of a product in the pack), puncture resistance, and perhaps a pouch design for on-the go consumption, can end up with an extruded or laminated film structure with up to 10 or 12 individual materials being bonded together. Each layer of the resulting substrate offers unique functionality to the overall pack structure. Whether moisture or gas barrier, a sealing layer, or adding durability to the film laminate, the substrate remains lightweight and highly efficient from a supply chain perspective. However, this complexity of design has its drawbacks when it comes to post consumer disposal.
Today’s mechanical recycling infrastructure around the world relies on sortation of materials into single streams of polymer or fibre. Any recycling system must create recyclate with commercial value i.e., have a market application for it to be sold to with a commercial value and be of appropriate purity to be reused. Single polymer milk bottles manufactured from Polyethylene (PE) or drinks bottles made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) are great examples of this process in action, recycling many times through a closed loop infrastructure bottle to bottle.
For flexible packaging containing multiple polymers, this route of disposal is simply not accessible today. Once co-extruded or laminated, the multiple polymers present in typical flexible packaging cannot be separated efficiently to support single stream recycling. Brands therefore have several options to consider.
First, is to move to single polymer structures through investment in research and development. For simpler pack designs, for example lidding films for protein packs or confectionary wrappers, then moving to PE, PP or PET films utilising different grades of a single polymer to achieve pack performance, is one option – but has its limitations when multiple functionalities like retorting or high barrier performance are required.
Brands can also shift to home and industrial compostable materials made from renewable polymers. Again, some compromises are likely to be made on pack performance, but the main challenge remains in cost. Compostable materials today do not have the economies of scale of fossil fuel-based plastics and are often priced 8-10 times the cost of incumbent plastics. Of course, then there is the issue of consumers understanding how to compost their waste or the availability of industrial composting facilities.
Greenback was established to deal with the reality of the waste streams we see today. Even if manufacturers shift some of their packaging to single polymer structures, multi-layer materials will continue to exist for many years – especially in middle-income countries where the plastic waste problem is most acute.
Greenback is building a decentralised network of advanced recycling plants near to the sources of plastic waste i.e., landfill sites, where non-recyclable plastic waste such as flexible packaging, can be collected. Utilising Enval technology – a unique microwave-induced pyrolysis solution for low density packaging waste – Greenback can recycle previously unrecyclable plastic to produce a feedstock (pyrolysis oil) for the production of food-grade plastic packaging at scale. Not only this, but the source of the material is authenticated using the Greenback eco2Veritas Circularity Platform, using blockchain and AI technologies, to provide brand owners with confidence in material provenance.
With advanced recycling from Greenback growing around the world, the benefits of flexible packaging for the CPG industry can be maintained and consumers can be confident they are still doing the right thing for the environment when buying their goods.
To find out more about Greenback’s solutions for flexible packaging recycling, please contact us.
January 6, 2022
Digitalising the post-consumer plastic waste stream for enhanced recyclate provenance
Boosting brand sustainability credentials with a verified plastic waste process
As Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) becomes increasingly relevant and enforceable around the world, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) companies have to demonstrate compliance and greater supply chain transparency in relation to plastics use.
Driven by targets set voluntarily or by governments, businesses today are focused on reducing the amount of virgin plastic and increasing recycled content within their packaging. However, this presents a number of challenges to the companies themselves and the wider packaging and recycling industries.
What makes post-consumer plastic waste so complex to process?
This is largely due to the wide variety of polymers and materials in the mix, and the fact that there is no uniform collection system in place.
While mechanical recycling – the most common recycling process for post-consumer waste plastic – is ideal for recovering rigid plastics such as polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), it can only be utilised once materials have been sorted into single waste streams. Additionally, it is not suitable for the processing of flexible packaging, which often comprises multiple laminates that are difficult to separate post-use.
Such complexities have played a part in the plastic waste crisis that has enveloped countries around the world. As CPGs now look to change their approach to the use of plastics, the challenges presented by post-consumer plastic waste make it difficult for them to provide data to demonstrate sustainability, transparency and traceability when it comes to recycled content.
Why is transparency important?
It’s becoming ever more important for companies to know the source of the recyclate they use. Increasingly, consumers want to know as much about the packaging as the product contained within. As they seek out brands which are sustainable and eco-friendly, environmental responsibility extends beyond how a product is made and now encompasses the brand’s values and entire supply chain.
Today, for CPGs to be able to demonstrate sustainability to consumers and address the issue of plastic waste effectively, there is a critical challenge in securing legitimate sources of clean, recycled plastics. Without a certified recycling process, there is scope for some to attempt to cheat the system providing plastics derived from fossil sources (virgin materials) at recyclate prices.
‘Greenwashing’, where companies make unsubstantiated claims to deceive consumers into believing a company’s products are environmentally friendly, is also an ongoing problem. In relation to plastic packaging, such claims can include stating that it contains a certain amount of recycled content when in fact it contains none and is manufactured entirely from virgin material.
For these reasons, having a transparent and fully traceable recycling infrastructure, is paramount. It can ensure a level playing field for companies striving to comply with regulations, while providing clear and accurate information to consumers and guarantee product safety along the supply chain.
A verified recycling process
Greenback Recycling Technologies has developed the eco2Veritas Circularity Platform, a novel tool designed to track plastic waste at every stage of the recycling supply chain, from beginning to end.
The Circularity Platform digitally connects technologies within the recycling process to provide enhanced auditing methods. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and IoT gathered evidence, including camera images, weigh scale data and smart analysis to enable companies to see when and how plastic waste was collected, along with the type and quality of material being processed. With such data, material provenance, composition and value can be authenticated and certified, and CPGs have access to the transparency and evidence of material processing that they need.
All data captured at each step of the process is stored securely on a private blockchain and then verified through the Circularity Platform, providing added peace of mind for companies.
The digital element of the platform complements the physical collection and flow of materials through the recycling supply chain. While the platform can work with any type of recycling technology, for Greenback it is invaluable as it certifies and substantiates the provenance of its pyrolysis oil, produced through its advanced recycling technology.
Why does Greenback’s digitalised approach to packaging recycling matter?
By taking this approach, Greenback is translating physical plastic packaging waste into a more valuable digital format that can be easily controlled, measured and verified. When it can be viewed in this way, it is easier to provide provenance and authenticity at a time when this is critically important for brands and their consumers.
It’s clear that plastic waste has become a sticking point for CPGs; the novel eco2Veritas Circularity Platform developed by Greenback, arms brands with a fresh and future-ready process to address the challenges of plastics recycling.
November 24, 2021
Solving Recycled Plastic Demand Challenges with Greenback
Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, and the rest - 79% - has accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. And, when you consider that over 90% of plastic packaging is made from fossil fuel, the associated waste is increasing greenhouse gases in the environment and impacting climate change.
Image source: UNEP
After years of becoming accustomed to the convenience of single use plastics, consumers have woken up to the effect that plastic pollution is having on the environment. Similarly, so have leading brands and retailers as a result of the changing consumer agenda. Being able to demonstrate sustainable values and, importantly, practices, are now seen as key influences in purchasing behaviour.
At the same time, major shifts in legislative and regulatory compliance around the world are effectively forcing Consumer Packaged Goods companies (CPGs) to take responsibility for the plastic they produce or face being penalised through taxation.
Globally, governments are increasingly implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations to encourage companies to design out problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging and innovate, in order that any plastic utilised is recyclable, reusable or compostable, ultimately creating a circular economy that benefits supply chains from beginning to end.
In the UK for example, the Plastic Packaging Tax is set to be implemented in April 2022. It aims to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and cut manufacturers’ reliance on virgin plastic. It will apply to all plastic packaging, either manufactured or imported to the UK, and stipulates that all packaging must contain at least 30% recycled material, otherwise a tax of £200 per tonne will be charged.
At a time when global economies are proving unpredictable, extra costs such as these are the last thing businesses want to see impacting the bottom line.
In addition, as the demand for recycled material grows – driven by consumers and compliance requirements - there is a question as to whether the recycling industry will be able to deliver the quantities required to meet the new market needs.
Mechanical recycling is currently the dominant recycling technique for post-consumer plastic packaging waste, producing recyclate via grinding, washing, separating, drying, re-granulating and compounding. This well-established technology works well for recovering plastic materials such as polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) where streams of a single waste material can be developed through sortation.
The difficulty arises when endeavouring to recycle mixed plastic waste. One option is to consider chemical recycling but it is not as readily available as mechanical recycling today.
Chemical recycling involves the use of pyrolysis – thermal degradation of plastic waste at different temperatures, in the absence of oxygen, to produce liquid oil that can then be used as a feedstock for the petrochemical industry to produce new plastic polymer. This polymer can then be used to produce new food-grade plastic packaging.
One company able to implement this process is Greenback Recycling Technologies (‘Greenback’). The recycling technology adopted by the company is microwave-induced pyrolysis, developed via Enval's proprietary pyrolysis solution for low-density packaging waste.
With a distributed network of advanced recycling centres located close to the sources of waste i.e. landfill sites, Greenback, through its eco2Veritas Circularity Platform™, certifies proof of material provenance and value, in terms of the material claims made, to provide users of resulting material confidence in their material supply.
Using a combination of artificial intelligence and IoT gathered evidence, all backed up on Blockchain to provide additional security, Greenback can track and trace its recycling production, responding to the need for consumers and businesses to have full visibility of the recycled plastic supply chain avoiding fraud.
Then, as part of its complete recycling solution, Greenback is also working in conjunction with local waste handlers at landfill sites as one way of ensuring feedstock supply. By gathering waste from public spaces and landfills, waste pickers divert a significant quantity of materials from the waste stream. If the recycling industry is to innovate and move forward in solving the plastics waste challenge, realising the critical role these people play in the collection through fair pay and conditions has to be recognised.
The demand for recycled content is increasing and it is clear that there are significant challenges for the industry to overcome in meeting demand. Greenback is committed to creating solutions in partnership with leading brands and multinationals to meet these needs head on, providing a new and innovative way of creating clean, food-grade recycled plastic.
November 4, 2021
Not Just Plastic Waste – How Does Recycling Address the Threat of Climate Change?
In light of the COP26 summit that is currently taking place in Glasgow, discussions around climate change have been dominating the public sphere. CO2 emissions represent one of the biggest global threats that we are facing today and reducing them by switching to clean energy sources has become a priority on the agenda. Plastics also represent a major environmental challenge: not only do they generate waste and pollution, but there is currently no effective way of disposing of them without emitting large volumes of CO2. Therefore, implementing cleaner methods to recycle plastic should be a major priority in the fight against climate change.
Today, plastic mainly gets recycled through mechanical recycling, in which it is mechanically transformed without altering its chemical structure and remoulded so that it can be reused. However, this process degrades the quality of the plastic over time and so it can only be recycled a limited number of times. Furthermore, it is only able to recycle certain types of plastic, mostly PET and HDPE, and many items are made up of different types of plastic that are hard to separate which complicates the recycling process. As a result, only a small percentage of plastic ends up getting recycled: according to a McKinsey report, only 12% of the 260 million tonnes of global plastic waste was recycled in 2016, with 25% being incinerated, generating CO2, and another 40% being thrown into landfills. While some have argued for a zero-plastic approach, it is an unrealistic goal to achieve in the short term given the many uses of plastic. For this reason, there is a clear need to invest into advanced recycling technologies that allow us to more effectively recycle all kinds of plastics. Chemical recycling is one of these potential solutions, and it would allow us to significantly improve recycling rates.
Chemical recycling is a more complex process than its mechanical counterpart. It involves modifying the chemical structure of the plastics and transforming them into other high-value chemicals that can be used as raw materials. Most importantly, it can be used to deal with hard-to-recycle plastics and makes possible the creation of an infinite recycling loop, contributing to the circular economy. While it is hard to measure the exact environmental impact of chemical recycling due to the technology still being in its early stages of development, a report by Material Economics found that it can achieve around 0.2 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of plastics produced, compared to 2.3 tonnes of CO2 generated from conventional production from fossil sources. Moreover, the same report calculated that chemical recycling combined with mechanical recycling could allow for the recirculation of as much as 62% of total plastics produced by 2050.
It is clear that chemical recycling has the potential to make a significant difference in the environmental impact of plastics, and could contribute to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, making this a reality will require investment in infrastructure and a commitment from companies to directly face the plastic waste crisis by adopting more sustainable practices. Although the technologies are still in their infancy, chemical recycling offers exciting prospects for the future of plastics and it is bound to play an increasingly important role.